Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2019 and updated in 2020 on Karencovey.com, and was written by Karen Covey.
Just like drinking and driving, mixing social media and divorce can have disastrous consequences.
Divorce is emotional and social media is viral. Combining the two is enough to create more drama and intrigue than all eight seasons of the Game of Thrones put together.
While most people know better than to post their dirty divorce laundry on social media, they often overestimate the level of self-control they’ll have in a moment of anger, rage, or alcohol-induced recklessness. They also tend to underestimate just how explosive even an “innocent” social media post can be in their divorce.
For example, a man and his wife were going through a bitter, contentious divorce. After years of fighting, they finally managed to come up with a settlement that both of them could accept. Unfortunately, before the agreement was signed and finalized, the husband got tagged at a party in several Facebook posts. The picture showed him smiling and laughing with another woman.
His wife saw the posts.
Not surprisingly, after she did, she was ready to call the settlement off and start fighting all over again!
Eventually, her lawyer was able to convince her that even if her husband was involved with the woman in the picture (which wasn’t totally clear), since the couple lived in a no-fault state she wouldn’t get any legal benefit from making an issue about her husband’s behavior.
Even still, just seeing that post (which someone other than her husband shared with her!) stalled her settlement and cost both her and her husband more money in attorneys’ fees. In the end, the case settled, but not until the husband threw in a few extra concessions to sweeten the deal.
The 3 Biggest Dangers of Using Social Media While You’re Going Through a Divorce
Even though most people who use social media think they know what they’re doing, and believe that what they post won’t hurt them in their divorce, there are three things they’re probably not counting on:
- Social media posts can be used as evidence in court;
- Once you post something on social media, it’s out of your control; and
- Even what your friends post can be used against you.
1. Anything You Post Can and Will Be Used Against You in Your Divorce
One of the biggest challenges in any contested divorce is proving what happened behind closed doors.
For example, a divorcing wife files an emergency motion to stop her husband from withdrawing money from their joint bank account. In court, the husband claims that his wife agreed he could take $30,000 out of their joint account to fund a business pursuit. The wife, of course, denies that and says she explicitly told the husband NOT to take money out of the account.
Nothing is in writing.
So, sorting out the truth invariably comes down to a battle of “he said/she said.”
Unfortunately, hearsay evidence like that is of questionable value. Anyone can make self-serving statements whenever doing so benefits them … and during a divorce, a lot of people do.
But social media changes all that. Social media posts often provide the proof that a certain thing happened at a certain time. That proof is a veritable gold mine for divorce lawyers.
When you post incriminating pictures on Facebook, or make an off-color tweet on Twitter, or share a racy picture on Instagram, you are literally creating evidence that can be used against you in your divorce.
… But What I Posted Was Private!
It doesn’t matter how tightly you adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Social media is part of the internet. The internet is, by definition, an interconnected web of communication that spans the world.
The internet is NOT private. Neither is social media.
Fifteen years ago, you might have been able to argue to a judge that your ex shouldn’t be able to use your social media posts against you because you blocked him/her from seeing them. But that argument just won’t fly any more.
It is now well-settled that when you post something on social media for others to see, it is neither privileged nor private! That means that anything you post on social media can be used against you in your divorce.
(By the way, if you think that your spouse AND his/her lawyer are not searching your social media accounts for divorce evidence – think again! If your divorce is amicable, your social media postings may not be an issue. But if it’s not, just remember: lawyers use social media too!)
2. Once You Post Something on Social Media, You Lose Control of It
A lot of people mistakenly believe that once they delete their social media posts, those posts – like the self-destructing tapes in Mission Impossible – will be gone forever.
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Even if you only post something for a few minutes (and, who does that?!) if someone happens to take a screenshot of your post while it’s up, they can have that screenshot forever. They can re-post it. They can share it. Or, they can send it to your spouse to be used as evidence against you in your divorce.
Even if you use social media like Snapchat, where posts are supposed to disappear within seconds of being viewed, and Snapchat stories are supposed to disappear within 24 hours, there are ways to record and save those videos and posts.
The bottom line is that posting ANYTHING on social media puts what you posted in the public domain. Once it’s there, it’s out of your control.
While you might get lucky and be able to delete an ill-advised post before anyone sees it, you also might not. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you just stay off social media until after your divorce is over.
3. Your Social Media “Friends” Do NOT Have Your Back!
A lot of people mistakenly believe that what they post on social media “just for their ‘friends’” will stay among their friends.
First of all, not everyone who is your “friend” on social media is really your friend. Many of your social media “friends” would have no problem sharing posts with your ex that you would rather not have him/her see.
But, even if your social media friends are real friends, and they are as tight-lipped as Mafia hit men, the potential that something you post will get leaked to your spouse is still enormous.
For example, the man whose marital settlement blew up when his wife saw a Facebook post with him and another woman in it, didn’t post that picture on Facebook himself. One of his friends posted the picture and tagged him in it.
What’s more, the man in the picture wasn’t even on Facebook! … but his friends were, and his wife was. His friends shared the picture with their friends, who shared with their friends, and the rest, as they say, was history!
It’s not hard to think of countless situations where your friends’ social media posts can end up coming back to haunt you in your divorce.
Going through a custody battle?
That picture of you and your buddies throwing back a few beers at the football game might help convince a judge that you drink too much. Maybe you shouldn’t have overnight visits with your kids.
Trying to convince the judge that you blew out your hip and you can’t work anymore?
That smiling picture of you and your new squeeze climbing a mountain out west while you were on vacation might make the judge think otherwise.
The bottom line is that posting anything on social media – or having anything posted about you on social media — can cause problems in your divorce.
10 Rules for Dealing With Social Media During Divorce
Obviously, staying off social media completely is the best thing you can do for your divorce. Yet, doing that isn’t always possible.
Maybe you have to be on social media for your job. Or maybe you have family far away and social media is the only way you can stay connected. (Or maybe the very idea of quitting social media cold turkey has you breaking out in a cold sweat!)
If quitting social media completely just isn’t an option for you, for whatever reason, here are some basic rules you need to follow to make it less likely that your social media posts will come back to bite you in your divorce.
1. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want a judge, the lawyers, your spouse, or your grandmother, to see.
When posting anything on social media, you MUST assume that the whole world will see it. Because of that, it has to pass the “Grandma Test.”
What’s the “Grandma Test?” If you’re thinking of posting something on social media that you would be ashamed to show your grandma – don’t!
What’s more, you’ve also got to assume that whatever you post will be taken out of context. So if there is ANY way that that picture of you, your friends, or your kids could make you look bad – don’t post it!
It also goes without saying that you should watch what you write in your posts! Always be kind, and avoid talking about your divorce at all!
2. Don’t post anything that shows bad parenting behavior.
Even if you don’t get drunk, do drugs, or throw wild parties, if in a weak moment, you happen to have a few too many Moscow mules and someone snaps a picture of you, that picture can be used against you in a custody battle.
So not only do you want to NOT share any picture of you engaging in any kind of potentially “bad parenting behavior,” you also want to avoid even being in a situation where any kind of incriminating picture could be taken.
(NOTE: This also applies to your new boyfriend/girlfriend too! If they are going to be around your kids during or after your divorce, what they do on social media can also be used in a custody battle against you! So it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to curb their social media behavior too.)
3. Don’t post anything that gives your spouse something to argue about.
Even when what you’re posting seems relatively innocent, if you know that what you’re about to post will send your spouse skyrocketing to Pluto if s/he sees it – then don’t post it!
Unless you enjoy dealing with the drama that comes after your spouse sees your post, then don’t post things that you know will drive him/her crazy! (And don’t assume that as long as you have “unfriended” your spouse, s/he won’t see it! You know that’s not true!)
For example, if you know your spouse is a health nut who wants the kids to eat only organic food, why would you post a picture on Instagram of you and your kid at McDonalds? You KNOW what that’s going to do to your spouse!
Sure, eating at McDonald’s isn’t likely to have a huge legal impact in your divorce. But your spouse’s rage certainly could! If nothing else, dealing with your spouse’s anger will take energy and resources that would be much better spent on something more productive.
The bottom line is that if you want to avoid drama, you need to go out of your way not to CAUSE drama.
4. Don’t post ANYTHING about your love life while you’re still married!
Posting happy pictures of you and your new squeeze on social media is like pouring salt into your spouse’s wounded heart. Even if your spouse was the one who wanted the divorce, NO ONE wants to be rejected! (And being publicly rejected is even worse!)
Flaunting pictures of your dating life on social media while you’re still married is like announcing on national television that your spouse isn’t good enough for you and you’ve found someone better.
Why would you do that?!
I mean, seriously!
Sure, it might feel good for a moment. But, unless you enjoy being mired in drama, there is NO REASON to do something that stupid!
You may think that because your state has “no fault” divorce laws, what you do outside of your marriage is no longer your spouse’s business. But your extra-marital experiences may end up affecting your divorce in ways you don’t expect.
In some states, evidence of infidelity can affect spousal support/alimony. It can also create a claim for dissipation. What’s more, claiming to be “single with no kids” on a dating app (which also counts as social media!) can seriously hurt your case if you’re fighting to get equal parenting time.
5. Don’t badmouth your ex on social media.
Badmouthing your ex hurts your kids. Doing it on social media is like using a megaphone to make sure everyone in the world knows what a louse your spouse is.
Unless your kids are toddlers, do you really think that what you say about their other parent on social media won’t ever get back to them? (And even if your kids are toddlers now, do you really want some relative who’s had too much to drink telling your kids at some family party ten years from now about what you said about their other parent on social media?!)
Talking badly about your ex can also hurt you big time in a custody battle.
Judges want both parents to have a relationship with their kids. They don’t appreciate it when parents bad mouth each other in front of the kids.
You may tell the judge that you only say good things about your spouse to your kids. But do you really think that the judge will believe that you’re telling the kids how wonderful their other parent is when you’re slamming him/her on social media?
6. Don’t post anything that puts your mental health into question.
No one is at their best when going through a divorce. It’s normal to be depressed, anxious, and angry. But when you post long rants about your struggles to your “friends” those posts can be used to make you look mentally or emotionally unstable.
Social media is NOT the place to spill your guts.
Posting anything that shows that you are in a bad mental headspace can have a devastating effect on your ability to get custody of your kids. It can also affect your ability to get more time with your kids.
If you’re not in the best emotional place in your divorce, get a therapist. Talk to him/her. Talk to your friends. But do yourself a favor and stay off the internet!
(NOTE: It’s also not even the best idea to text or email anyone about your struggles. Keep your conversations live and in person.)
7. Don’t post anything about your job or your income on social media.
While LinkedIn is not the first social media platform that people think about using against their ex in a divorce, just like Facebook, it can provide a virtual treasure trove of information.
For example, when you update your LinkedIn profile to announce that you’ve gotten a new job, a better job, or a promotion, that also announces to your spouse that you may need to pay more child support.
If you don’t have a job, your LinkedIn profile can provide evidence that your earning capacity is much greater than what you claim it is because of your skills and experience.
In short, just like any other social media platform, what you say and do on LinkedIn can definitely impact your divorce.
8. Don’t post anything that shows you violating a court order.
Court orders are not suggestions. They are commands from the court to do or not do a certain thing.
That being said, it only makes sense that you should avoid posting anything on social media that shows you doing something that a judge ordered you not to do.
For example, if the judge has ordered you NOT to introduce your new boyfriend/girlfriend to your kids, why would you post a smiling picture of all of you together on social media? That picture is all the proof your ex will need to show that you not only violated the court order but that you’re not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree either.
Unless you want to be held in contempt of court, avoid posting ANYTHING on social media that shows you doing something that a judge ordered you not to do!
9. Don’t post anything that shows you have more money than you claim.
Posting pictures of yourself on tropical vacations, or standing next to a brand new car, can seriously damage your claim that you’re broke.
It doesn’t matter that this was the first vacation you’ve taken in ten years and your parents paid for it. It doesn’t matter that the car belonged to your best friend and not to you. That’s NOT how it’s going to look (or play out!) in court!
What’s more, even if you’re able to prove in court that the pictures your spouse saw on social media have nothing to do with your current financial state, you will spend a lot of time, energy and money winning that fight. Why would you do that?
If you really don’t have any money, and you don’t want to start a court battle that will only cost you money you don’t have, then don’t post pictures on social media that make it look like you’re richer than you are.
10. Don’t post anything that could put your credibility in question.
This rule may seem a little vague. But it’s actually incredibly simple.
If you are not being 100% honest about EVERYTHING in your divorce, be careful about what you put on social media – or on the internet.
For example, if you tell your spouse you’ve sold your boat, and a month later your best friend posts a picture of him and your boat on social media with the caption “Just chillin’ on my best friend’s boat!” you’ve got a problem! (Yes. That really happened.)
The same thing is true if you use Craig’s list to sell personal property that you claim is worthless. If you’re listing your dining room set for sale for $1000 on the internet but you’ve given a deposition stating that it’s worthless, you just impeached yourself! (Yes, that happened too.)
BONUS TIP: Remember You’re Not a Robot
Social media is addictive. It’s been designed to be addictive.
Divorce is emotional. Breaking up hurts, and it often drives people who are otherwise normal to do crazy things.
We’ve all heard the country western songs about keying your ex’s car, slashing his/her tires, and destroying his/her stuff to get back at your ex for cheating. Anyone who’s ever felt the intense pain of an unexpected breakup knows how obsessed you can become over your ex, or soon-to-be-ex.
You constantly wonder “What’s my spouse doing? Who is s/he with? What does his/her new lover look like? Is s/he better than me?”
In the past, you might wonder those things, but most people didn’t have the resources or the ability to go find the answers.
Social media changed that.
Facebook stalking is a real thing. And it’s not nearly as hard to prove as you might think.
What’s more, stalking your spouse (or his/her new love interest) can have real and damaging consequences in your divorce. That’s yet another reason to stay off social media completely during your divorce. Believe it or not, it’s usually easier not to watch your spouse on social media at all than it is to stop investigating him/her once you’ve started.
BONUS TIP #2: Change ALL of your social media passwords. Now.
If your spouse has (or can guess) your passwords, then s/he will have access to everything you post all the time. That means that, regardless of whether you’ve blocked your spouse from your social media accounts, s/he will still be able to see (and make screenshots of) everything you’ve posted on social media.
Obviously, that’s not what you want.
Even if you don’t think your spouse knows your passwords, it still wouldn’t hurt to change them anyway! When you do, make sure you don’t use some version of the same passwords you always use. Your passwords need to be completely different from anything you’ve ever used before.
The Bottom Line When it Comes to Social Media and Divorce
What’s listed here are just SOME of the ways that using social media while you’re going through a divorce can bite you in the behind. There are many, many more ways that social media can blow up your divorce.
Instead of tempting fate, the wisest thing you can do when you’re going through a divorce is to get off social media altogether … immediately! Then stay off of it until your divorce is over.
Doing that may be painful. You may experience digital withdrawal. But you will also have taken a huge step toward making your divorce less contentious. (Believe it or not, staying off social media will also contribute to your own peace of mind as well!)
If you can’t completely eliminate social media from your life, then at least follow these rules. They will help you from letting social media turn your divorce into a digital circus.